Ravens

Brewers optimistic at winter fan festival

Brewers optimistic at winter fan festival

MILWAUKEE (AP) Ryan Braun skipped the Milwaukee Brewers' fan festival last January, remaining mostly quiet while he waited for a decision in his appeal of a 50-game suspension under baseball's drug policy.

What a difference a year makes.

The 2011 NL MVP was on hand Sunday as the Brewers held their annual winter party just weeks before the team is scheduled to report to spring training. And the focus was on Milwaukee's inexperienced rotation and carrying over last season's strong finish, not on his rocky stretch from a year ago.

``There's always so much optimism this time of year but I think there are more unknowns than this time last year because of the lack of experience with our starting pitchers,'' Braun said. ``Last year, (Zack) Greinke and (Shaun) Marcum were guys with longer track records but this group is very talented. There's a lot of uncertainty but certainly a lot of talent.''

Well off the pace in the NL Central, the Brewers traded Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels last July. Marcum was bothered by right elbow tightness for much of the season, then signed with the New York Mets over the winter.

Now Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers are part of a youthful group poised to take on a bigger role, and Chris Narveson likely will be back in the rotation if he's fully recovered from shoulder surgery that ended his 2012 season after just two starts.

``It's no different than when we went with our young positional players: Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Ricky Weeks, Prince Fielder,'' general manager Doug Melvin said. ``The reason we got Greinke and (Randy) Wolf a couple years ago was to bide time to give our younger guys the ability to develop in the big leagues. Now it's their time to do it on the big league level.

``Marco Estrada, there's only two guys with a better walks to strikeouts ratio in the major leagues. Michael Fiers had a better strikeouts per nine innings than a whole list of quality pitchers. I'm banking on some of their performance of last year in August and September.''

A year ago, the Brewers were coming off one of their most successful seasons since the franchise moved to Milwaukee. Braun and Fielder combined to lead the Brewers to the 2011 NL Central title and an appearance in the league championship series.

But Fielder signed a big free-agent deal with Detroit last January and Braun was hounded by the suspension for much of last winter. He tested positive for elevated testosterone levels but arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in favor of the slugger due to chain of custody issues involving the sample, throwing out the penalty during spring training.

Braun responded with another monster season, hitting .319 with 112 RBIs and leading the NL in home runs (41), total bases (356) and OPS (.987). He finished second in NL MVP voting behind Giants star Buster Posey.

The left fielder anchors a lineup that returns almost completely intact after leading the National League in home runs, RBIs, runs, stolen bases and extra-base hits - quite the impressive feat for the first season since Fielder left. First baseman Corey Hart will miss the start of the season due to a right knee injury, but is expected to play this year.

``When Ryan is healthy, Ryan can have a better year than he had last year and a better year than he had the year before,'' manager Ron Roenicke said. ``He's capable of doing that. We need to keep him on the field and keep him healthy.''

Braun is one of 14 members of the Brewers' organization slated for the World Baseball Classic. Pool play for the international competition begins in early March.

``It's a tremendous honor to represent your country,'' said Braun, who was born in Mission Hills, Calif., and played college ball at the University of Miami. ``You don't know how many opportunities you'll get to do that - this tournament only happens once every four years, and four years from now who knows - for all of us - what our health situation will be, where we'll be in the game, whether we'll even get an opportunity to be invited.

``For me, I think it was a no-brainer. As long as I was healthy, it was something I was definitely going to do.''

While the majority of Milwaukee's position players are back, the pitching staff is full of question marks. The Brewers completely rebuilt their bullpen, save for closer John Axford and setup man Jim Henderson. Veterans Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny and Burke Badenhop will fill some of the innings, with a crop of prospects expected to fill the rest along with rounding out the rotation.

A couple of the young players got valuable experience last season after Milwaukee slumped to a 54-66 record on Aug. 19. The Brewers went 27-13 to finish the year.

Braun thinks that experience will help in 2013.

``You've already seen them succeed at the highest level,'' he said. ``It's one thing to be a prospect and have success in the minor leagues but to see Rogers and Peralta come up, Fiers, what he did all year ... to see all those guys come up and succeed at this level, it gives us as a team confidence that they can produce, succeed and thrive at this level.''

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Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

Lamar Jackson’s play this season has begun to make some analysts and fans backtrack 

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson is starting to make people reconsider what they think of him. 

After the Ravens’ 49-13 win over the Bengals on Sunday, the rest of the NFL is starting to take notice about Lamar Jackson’s status in the NFL. Especially considering his spin move through the Bengals defense.

Hall of Fame NFL general manager Bill Polian recently admitted that he was wrong when he said that Jackson should be an NFL wide receiver during his draft process in 2018.

“I was wrong, because I used the old, traditional quarterback standard with him, which is clearly why John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome were more prescient than I was,” Polian told USA TODAY Sports. 

Jackson is currently building an MVP case for himself and is on-pace for over 30 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. 

It’s a nice change of pace for the 22-year-old quarterback in his second year as a pro. Jackson had to face heavy criticism after he left Louisville for a variety of reasons headed into the draft. Even after he took over as the Ravens quarterback, those evaluations persisted. 

“We always knew what he was about,” Ravens center Matt Skura said. “We always knew his ability to make plays and all that stuff. I think it’s just people right now seeing it on a much larger scale and it’s just getting the attention now.”

At this point, however, it’s clear that not only is Jackson a quarterback, he might even be the MVP of the league.

Of the five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 Draft, only four are starting and just two have led their teams to a winning record. Jackson leads all of his draft counterparts in total yards and total touchdowns. 

But as anyone in the Ravens’ locker room will say, the accolades don’t concern Jackson — only the record does.

“I think he’s more concerned with winning than anything,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “As individuals, we’ve all got people to prove wrong and things that we used to put a chip on our shoulder. At the end of the day, I know he’s more concerned with winning more than anything.”

Still, it’s noteworthy that it only took Jackson a complete season of starts, through two partial seasons, to begin the backtracking across the NFL landscape.

“If you watch ESPN or you watch TV, it’s going to come up no matter what,” Skura said. “Even on your Instagram feed it’s going to come up. I think for a lot of us, just in one ear and out the other as far as people pumping us up. You’ve kind of got to stay level-headed and ride the rollercoaster, so to say.”

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Hayden Hurst set on helping those with depression, anxiety with new documentary titled “Headstrong”

Hayden Hurst set on helping those with depression, anxiety with new documentary titled “Headstrong”

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Hayden Hurst immediately saw the impact of his documentary last week when, just hours after it aired, people reached out to him to tell their stories. 

Hurst was a part of a documentary titled “Headstrong” that aired on NBC Sports Washington last week, which detailed his struggles with depression and anxiety as a baseball player. The documentary will air on NBCSN on Nov. 20.

Now, Hurst is reaching out to tell his story in hopes of impacting those who struggle with mental illness, as he did.

“I think it’s going to reach a lot of people,” Hurst said. “Some people even reached out to tell me stuff that affects them in their lives. It’s very cool, it’s very humbling.”

Hurst was a standout baseball player in high school and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. He signed immediately and began his professional baseball career. 

But shortly thereafter, Hurst developed the “Yips,” and he was unable to throw strikes like he once did. On the mound, his hands shook when he attempted to pitch. Off the field, his condition began to deteriorate. 

He said he began to self-medicate and that’s when he started to seek help. 

After he retired from baseball, he decided to play football at the University of South Carolina and began to treat his mental illness. In 2018, he was a first-round pick of the Ravens.

“It’s night and day from where I was,” Hurst said. “Back in the baseball days, my lack of success in baseball kind of led to my off the field issues. I kind of self-medicated a little bit to make everything go away. Where I’m at now, I’m so much more mature, I’m so much more in-tune with the person that I am, I’m close with my family.”

Hurst is now set out on telling his story to help others who might be in the same situation that he was in. With his background as a professional baseball and football player, he’s hopeful that people will see his situation and feel compelled to talk about what they’ve been going through.

“I really want to tell my story so I get it out there and people can relate to it and they can see it and read it and see the silver lining in it,” Hurst said. “I think a lot of people struggle with things and not a lot of people like talking about it.”

It’s difficult for him to make speeches and speak with others during the NFL season, but he’s got plans to travel to Columbia, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida to reach out to people who might be in need of help in the offseason.

He’s already begun work in Baltimore and wants to continue to help through his foundation, the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation. 

For now, though, he wants everyone to know that it’s OK to not be OK. Hurst’s story proves that. 

“I think more people are affected by it than we think,” Hurst said. “It’s a sensitive topic and not many people like talking about it. I’m in a position where — this sounds worse than it is — I really don’t care what people think about me. I am who I am, it’s part of the make up of who I am and I’m going to tell my story.”

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